ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Black Girl would ask Shaw why does the “inspiring force” (God) has to be a “He.”
She is armed with a knobkerry (a carved stick) to smash the “ridiculous nonsense”
that occurs when she interviews God and his representatives.
Books by George Bernard Shaw
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By George Bernard Shaw
No Complete Explanation of the Universe
Shavian Excerpts with Commentary by Rudolph Lewis
The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God is an allegorical journey, in which Shaw dons the mask of a young African woman raised by missionaries, yet inquisitive was inspired when Bernard Shaw “was held up in Knysna [South Africa] for five weeks in the African summer and English winter of 1932. Shaw believes in divine inspiration, “ancient and modern,” but also in “observation and introspection” and realizes, from personal experience we assume, the “instrument on which the inspiring force plays maybe a very faulty one . . . making the most ridiculous nonsense of his message.”
Of course, Black Girl would ask Shaw why does the “inspiring force” (God) has to be a “He.” She is armed with a knobkerry (a carved stick) to smash the “ridiculous nonsense” that occurs when she interviews God and his representatives. Black Girl discovers how “water from the new fountain” is “sloshed” into “the contents of the dirty old bucket” and concludes that “we are objects of pity to the superficial but clearheaded atheists [“the Caravan of the Curious”] who are content without metaphysics and can see nothing in the whole business but its confusions and absurdities.”
Black Girl encounters the various Gods of the Old Testament (represented by Noah, Job and Micah) and the Gods of the New Testament (represented by Jesus, Peter, and Paul). She finally settles down with Voltaire (St. Francis?) tending her own garden. Her garden confidant persuades her to marry an Irishmen (a communist) and we leave her with three children. While tending her “garden” only now and then do the old questions of her journey arise.
Is it because her own decisions and acts have created a world of herself? Or is it that Shaw troubled with an ending makes a joke?
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Black Girl’s Religious Questions
to the Gods and her ethical tests of the truth of their answers:
The Mamba God Noahs God, cruel, bloody, destructive (kills the mamba), as he has tens of thousands. The Lord of Hosts (of plagues and blood sacrifices), the Black Girl rejects and his wicked nonsense. Black Girl’s responds to this boisterous God in the name of the true God whom I seek I will scotch you as you scotched that poor mamba.
The Rattlesnake God Jobs God, reasonable, gives snake an egg (a token?) and it returns to the forest. A God who likes to argue and sneer when questioned closely. Why he made the world both good and bad” is a very sore point. The Black Girl rejects him and concludes, There are too many old men pretending to be gods in this forest.
The Godless Preacher Ecclesiastes (Koheleth) clean shaven white young man in Greek tunic. Seeks Wisdom in Greek reason. To him the Black Girl responds, I have learned from you that to know God is to be God. You have strengthened my soul.
The Nameless Lion (King Richard) handsome and orderly, she caresses his throat and leaves him decisively.
The God of Micah the Morasthite (the Roaring Prophet) For Micah, God requires one to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with Him.
To which the Black Girl responds, This is a third God, and I like him much better than the one who wanted sacrifices and the one who wanted me to argue with him so that he might sneer at my weakness and ignorance. But doing justice and shewing mercy is only a small part of life when one is not a baas or a judge. And what is the use of walking humbly if you dont know where you are walking to.
To which the Prophet replied, walk humbly and God will guide you. What is it to you whither He is leading you?
The Black Girl responds, He gave me eyes to guide myself. He gave me a mind and left me to use it. How can I now turn on Him and tell Him to see for me and to think for me. Micah replied with a fearful roar.
The Myop & the God of Conditoned Reflex (I.V. Pavlov?)
Effects on what? said the Black Girl.
On a dogs saliva said the myop. Are you any the wiser? she said. I am not interested in wisdom. In fact I do not know what it means and have no reason to believe that it exists. My business is to learn something that was not known before. I impart that knowledge to the world, and thereby add to the body of ascertained scientific truth.
How much better will the world be when it is all knowledge and no mercy? said the Black Girl. Have you brains enough to invent some decent way of finding out what you want to know?
Have you ever considered the effect of your experiments on other peoples minds and characters? Is it worth while losing your own soul and damning everybody elses to find out something about a dogs spittle?
Roman Soldier with Spear Guarding the Cross On your knees, blackamoor, before the instrument and symbol of Roman justice, Roman law, Roman order and Roman peace. Black Girl hated the cross and thought it a great pity that Jesus had not peacefully and painlessly and naturally, full of years and wisdom, protecting his granddaughters (her imagination always completed the picture with at least twenty promising black granddaughters) against the selfishness and violence of their parents.
But the black girl side-stepped the spear and swung her knobkerry so heavily on the nape of his neck that he went down sprawling and trying vainly to co-ordinate the movement of his legs sufficiently to rise.
This is the blackamoor instrument and symbol of all those fine things. How do you like it? said Black Girl.
The God of Love (Jesus, the Conjurer) Im the poorest of poor whites; yet I have thought of myself as a king. But that was when the wickedness of men had driven me crazy.
Who is God?
For the conjurer, God is within. He is our father. Why not our mother? asked Black Girl. My father beat me from the time I was little until I was big enough to lay him out with my knobkerry, said Black Girl. And even after that he tried to sell me to a white bass-soldier who had left his wife across the sea. I have always refused to say Our father which art in heaven. I always say Our grandfather. I will not have a God who is my father.
What God Wants of Us?
Love them that hates you. Bless them that curse you. Never forget that two blacks do not make a white.
Black girl said, Well, let you be king Solomon and let me be Queen of Sheba, same as in the Bible. I come to you and say that I love you. That means I have come to take possession of you. I come with the love of a lioness and eat you up and make you a part of myself. From this time you will have to think, not of what pleases you, but of what pleases me. I will stand between you and yourself, between you and God. Is not that a terrible tyranny? Love is a devouring thing. Can you imagine heaven with love in it?
We have to live with people and must make the best of them. But does it not shew that our souls need solitude as much as our bodies need love? We need the help of one anothers bodies and the help of one anothers minds; but our souls need to be alone with God; and when people come loving you and wanting your soul as well as your mind and body, you cry Keep your distance: I belong to myself, not to you.
This love one another of yours is worse mockery to me who am in search of God than it is to the warrior who must fight against murder and slavery, or the hunter who must slay or see his children starve. . . .
I tell you these cure-all commandments of yours are like the pills the cheap jacks sell us: they are useful once in twenty times perhaps, but in the other nineteen they are of no use. Besides, I am not seeking commandments, I am seeking God.
Continue your search; and God be with you said the conjurer. To find him, such as you must go past me. And with that he vanished.
That is perhaps your best trick said the Black Girl; though I am sorry to lose you; for my mind you are a lovable man and mean well.
The God of Peter the Rock With a Cathedral on His Shoulders
But you are not a rock; and it is too heavy for you, Black Girl said, expecting every moment to see him crushed by its weight.
No fear he said, grinning pleasantly at her. It is made entirely of paper. And he dance past her, making all the bells in the cathedral tinkle merrily.
Before he was out of sight several others, dressed in different costumes of black and white and all very carefully soaped and brushed, came along carrying smaller and mostly much uglier paper Churches. They all cried to her
Do not believe the fisherman. Do not listen to those other fellows. Mine is the true Church.
“At last she had to turn aside into the forest to avoid them; for they began throwing stones at one another; and as their aim was almost as bad as if they were blind, the stones came flying all over the road. So she concluded that she would not find God to her taste among them.”
A Wandering Jew (Paul, the Apostle) Has who come? said the Black Girl. He who promised to come, said the Jew. He who said that I must tarry til he comes. I have tarried beyond all reason. If He does not come soon now it will be too late; for men learn nothing except how to kill one another in greater and greater numbers.
That wont be stopped by anybody coming said the Black Girl.
But He will come in glory, sitting on the right hand of God cried the Jew. He said so. He will set everything right.
If you wait for other people to come and set everything right said the Black Girl you will wait for ever. At that the Jew uttered a wail of despair; spat on her, and tottered away.
Black Girl was by this time quite out of conceit with old men; so she was glad to shake him off.
The God of Evolution & the Caravan of the Curious They are thoughtless, and waste much time quarreling about trifles he said. And they ask questions for the sake of asking questions.
Are you in search of God? said the first gentleman. Had you not better be content with Mumbo Jumbo, or whatever you call the god of your tribe? You will not find any of ours an improvement on him.
We have a very miscellaneous collection of Mumbo Jumbos said the third gentleman, and not one that we can honestly recommend to you.
That may be so said the Black Girl. But you had better be careful. The missionaries teach us to believe in your gods. It is all the instruction we get. If we find out that you do not believe in them and are their enemies we may come and kill you. There are millions of us; and we can shoot as well as you.
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Elsewhere, in pointing to The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, I stated that maybe that Shaw, who wrote this work while in South Africa, used the mask of the African girl possibly because there is great ignorance about Africans or black people in general. But we should in fairness allow Shaw to state his own case, for he appends his fable with a long explanation of the text. The final paragraphs read as follow:
And now I think the adventures of the black girl as revealed to me need no longer puzzle anyone. They could hardly have happened to a white girl steeped from her birth in the pseudo-Christianity of the Churches. I take it that the missionary lifted her straight out of the native tribal fetishism into an unbiased contemplation of the Bible with its series of gods marking stages in the development of the conception of God from the monster Bogey Man to the Father; then to the spirit without body, parts, nor passions; and finally to the definition of that spirit in the words God is love.
For the primitive two [sic] her knobkerry suffices; but when she reaches the end she has to point out that Love is not enough (like Edith Cavell making the same discovery about Patriotism) and that it is wiser to take Voltaire’s advice by cultivating her garden and bringing up her piccaninnies than to spend her life imagining that she can find a complete explanation of the universe by laying about her with a knobkerry.
Still, the knobkerry has to be used as far as the way is clear. Mere agnosticism leads nowhere. When the question of the existence of Noah’s idol is raised on the point, vital to high civilization, whether our children shall continue to be brought up to worship it and compound for their sins by sacrificing to it, or, more cheaply, by sheltering themselves behind another’s sacrifice to it, then whoever hesitates to bring down the knobkerry with might and main is ludicrously unfit to have any part in the government of a modern State.
The importance of a message to that effect at the present world crisis is probably at the bottom of my curious and sudden inspiration to write this tale instead of cumbering theatrical literature with another stage comedy.
Source: George Bernard Shaw. The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God . New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1933.
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By Charles C. Mann
Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.
Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple. We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.
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By Pauline Maier
A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her books footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a conventions decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maiers accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state conventions verdict affected anothers. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.Booklist
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 2 November 2007